The prosecution of four members of the Bangor Protestant Boys Flute Band, of which I am a member, is a sad indictment on the system and indeed further reflects the continuing attempts by the Policing and Justice apparatus to criminalise, and neutralise, expressions of culture.
The core trajectory of the failed Belfast Agreement pivots on the contrived notion of ‘harmonisation’. This, in essence, is the key of Nationalism’s strategy. It is dressed up under the guise of equality, which is, in Gerry Adam’s own words, the ‘trojan horse’. Harmonisation relies upon social, economic and cultural neutralisation.
For this strategy to be effective, and the peace ‘process’ to follow its pre-disposed roadmap towards Irish Unification- whether constitutionally or via the back-door of all-Ireland harmonisation- culture must be neutralised and neutered. Therefore it is no surprise to see that the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service- which was surrendered under the table at the Hillsborough agreement talks- are acting as the enforcement arm of this strategy, and as such criminalising all aspects of Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist cultural expression.
Our band came under investigation following a conscious decision to breach an unjust and oppressive Parades Commission determination. Our band respectfully decided to play a hymn passing St Patrick’s chapel on Donegall Street. This is a decision that the band fully stands over.
The PSNI initially sought to prosecute almost every member of the band, working under a ‘joint-enterprise’ rule whereby they sought to present the entire band as one structure and therefore each and every band member could have been prosecuted for the actions of the band corporately.
The band took a conscious decision to target this particular aspect of the PSNI case, knowing full well that a successful outcome could severely undermine future PSNI attempts to criminalise bands corporately.
Prior to this, the band also decided to expose the fatal flaws in the legislative framework of the Public Processions Act. By initially refusing to voluntarily attend for interview, the band forced an admission from the PSNI that they have no powers of arrest under the Public Processions Act; therefore there was precious little they could do if a band member refused to engage.
Once this aspect was proven, much to the consternation of a humiliated PSNI investigating team, the band then decided to present for interview with a pre-prepared outline of our defence. This defence was based on the assertion that rather than being one corporate entity, the band was instead compartmentalised and accordingly different sections of the band had no idea what duties other sections were to perform.
For example the flag carriers had no knowledge of what tunes the flute section would play, the drummers acted on the instruction of the lead tip- the role of which revolved constantly amongst the drummers- and the flute players acted on the calls of the band captain, which rotated throughout the parade.
This strategic test of the PSNI’s case proved effective in undermining their malice, as their attempted mass prosecution buckled due to the fact that they could not adduce sufficient proof as to who knew what, when they knew and who bore responsibility. With each compartment of the band reliant upon another and this structure constantly rotating, then it is much harder for the PSNI/PPS to prove beyond all reasonable doubt culpability or knowledge.
As such, the PSNI were only able to prosecute four members of the band, all of whom played flutes. The band members had refused to omit from their pre-prepared PSNI statements that they had consciously broken the determination, a mark of their pride in the actions of the band. Had such an admission not been included, then it is quite conceivable that the PSNI would not even have succeeded in prosecuting four band members.
The strategy of compartmentalising the band, and rotating responsibility of roles and actions, presents the PSNI with a serious evidential problem for any future cases. Despite the fact that four unfortunate members of the band had to accept a fine in this matter, it was an important strategic victory over the PSNI and PPS, and it is hoped that such defence strategies can be refined and utilised further and in the future thwart further malicious prosecutorial attempts to criminalise culture and religious freedom.